The Role of Invasive Herbal Remedies: Kudzu, Mimosa, Wild Rose...Plantain? Dandelion?

The Role of Invasive Herbal Remedies: Kudzu, Mimosa, Wild Rose...Plantain? Dandelion?

Within our materia medica of common 'weedy' medicinal plants native to the Appalachian mountains where we are based, you will also find a sprinkling of so-called invasive plants which are not native to this area and at times are seen as resource hogs, taking water, sunlight, and nutrients from our native plants and sometimes depleting their populations or even choking them out. One individual, a professional whose work is to control the populations of non-native plants in our woodlands, recently posed a question to us about the harvesting and use of invasive species such as autumn olive, multiflora rose, and mimosa and how this affects their presence amidst our native plants. It's such a fascinating inquiry and important topic that we wanted to address it here. After all, we eat, sleep, and breathe plants: their future is our future and their health is our health. 

Does the Use of Abundant Herbal Remedies Include Invasive Species?

Increasingly, we are finding the plants in our yards are 'foreigners', invasive species which are sometimes stigmatized and snubbed by native plant lovers. What does the presence of these exotic botanicals mean and how do we deal with their infiltration of populations of other plants that we want to see thrive?

Mimosa Tree (Albizia julibrissin) Flower and Leaf

Mimosa tree flowers (Alibizia julibrissin)

Certain invasive herbs have become quite popular in modern herbal medicine: Japanese knotweed is commonly included in protocols for chronic lyme and immune support, kudzu leaves are edible, spinach-like, and certainly abundant, the plant provides an incredibly tough fiber for basket-weaving, and its nutritive, starchy root is an invaluable remedy for a number of physical issues, and mimosa flower goes into many mood-boosting formulas for its reputation as the serotonin-boosting 'happiness tree'. 

Princess Tree (Paulownia tomentosa) Flowers for Herbal Syrup

Princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa) flowers for herbal syrup

Beyond the Idea of Good Natives vs. Bad Invasives

The framing of the invasive plant issue can be as varied as "All non-natives are bad," (see this National Geographic article on the subject) to "...The blame for damage done by so-called invasive species lies with us, when we have created an imbalance that opens opportunities for new species to move in," (Toby Hemenway on Timothy Scott's fascinating book Invasive Plant Medicine, which I recommend)

Wildcrafting Wild Autumn Russian Olive Berries

Autumn/Russian Olive berries (Eleagnus spp.)

The discussion on invasives vs. natives in the realm of modern herbal medicine gets complicated and nuanced quickly, with issues of sustainable wildcrafting and plant population control coming to the forefront. The average herbalist wouldn't dare refer to beloved plantain (which was known as 'English-man's foot' to indigenous Americans) or dandelion as invasive or consider eliminating them from the apothecary because they had origins somewhere other than North America.

To the contrary, the two weeds are present in some form in almost every materia medica and in the majority of apothecaries, mirroring their prevalence throughout the planet. The complexities of invasives vs. natives in the ecosystem are immense and this doesn't even touch on the philosophical lessons that invasive plants might hold for humanity: resilience, adaptability, and thriving under difficult circumstances, to name a few. Invasive plants are scrappy and tenacious to the core - qualities that will become more and more prized as we deal with a changing planet. One thing is becoming clear, though: the hard line between the invasives and the native plans is becoming blurred. 

Conventional wisdom tells us that invasive species are unwanted and insidious. But the landscape is changing; in a warming world, it is becoming increasingly challenging to define what is native and what is not. There is even an area of study within integration biology which looks at the relationship invasive and native plants have with each other. Opportunistic plants offer us the chance to respect them for what they are, appreciate the role they play, receive what they offer, and reimagine how to do this while also preserving and sustaining our native plants. This is their own unique medicine, whether you make it into an herbal tincture (as in Japanese knotweed or kudzu) or not (check out this NY Times article 'Invasives Aren't Always Unwanted' for more). 

Multiflora Wild Rose Glycerite Syrup Herbal Remedy Medicine Making

Making wild rose glycerite from multiflora roses (Rosa multiflora)

Why Harvesting and Using Invasive Plants as Herbal Remedies Helps Balance the Ecosystem

We promote the harvesting and use of medicinally and nutritionally valuable plants and herbs, regardless of where they originate from. Often, the appropriate use of invasives such as multiflora rose blossoms or hips or autumn olive berries can help to control, deter, and diminish their populations by preventing them from seeding or spreading further (since these hips/berries are their reproductive organs). When we harvest wild multiflora rosehips for tea, preserves, or for our award-winning Carolina Bitters digestive formula, or pick autumn olive berries as an antioxidant-rich wild snack or pie filling, we effectively reduce their chances of reseeding themselves with those particular fruits, which may give native botanicals in the area a better chance to hold their own and resist the invasive takeover.

Wild Autumn Olive Tart

Wild Autumn Olive (Eleagnus spp.) tart 

Despite their poor reputation amongst gardeners, invasives do have value when considered part of the larger ecological web. The Albizia julibrissin tree was originally introduced to the US as an ornamental from Asia and adapts well to most soils. When we harvest the stunningly gorgeous mimosa flower and bark to make our grief-supportive and mood-optimizing Mimosa Elixir, we will often drop a branch - which may help reign in the growth of the tree - or gather blooms from a specimen that is about to be cut down or trimmed anyway. Sustainably wildcrafting the blossoms - while, of course, leaving some for pollinators and other people to enjoy - means that we are reducing the self-seeding ability of the tree and therefore future populations of mimosa, while increasing the ability of native trees to thrive. 

What can be done to control the widespread growth of exotic invasives while also helping our precious native (often woodland growing) herbal remedies such as lobelia, yellowroot, Solomon's seal, and black cohosh to thrive? Eating the weeds is a good start. We never promote the cultivation or spreading of invasive plants because their vigor and growth speed has the potential to destroy the native species that make our region of western North Carolina so special and among the most botanically diverse bioregions in the world. But we are long-time purveyors of the Frank Cook mantra, "Eat something wild everyday," and many of the most sought-after greens in our foraged salads are wild mustard, dandelion, plantain, and garlic mustard. Top that with some blackberries and you have yourself a fully invasive salad. 

Weaving Making Kudzu Baskets Indigneous Basketry

Weaving traditional kudzu baskets at Red Moon Herbs with the incredible teacher Nancy Basket

True Sustainability Through Education, Plant Saves, and Seed Spreading

Perhaps the deepest thread that runs through our 26-year history as a small herb company is that of protecting and spreading seeds of native plant populations. We do plant rescues and saves in which we transplant native medicinals from areas where they would otherwise be eradicated by development. We promote the awareness and use of ginseng leaf which is undervalued yet as or more potent than ginseng root. We share traditional wild-tending strategies such as re-planting pieces ginseng and Solomon's seal roots and planting the berries/seeds before harvesting. We pride ourselves on being leaders in the seed-spreading revolution. 

Intrigued with the subject and looking for more? For further reading, check out the thoroughly researched book Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives. Look into Ann Armbrecht's work on the Sustainable Herbs Project. Support your hyper-local or as-local-as-possible organic and biodynamic farmers, wildcrafters, and herbalists and know your herb sources and #whomakesyourmedicine. And as always, join us in supporting the work of United Plant Savers to conserve and protect our precious native medicinal plants. 

How to Make a Wild Herbal Succus: Cleavers

How to Make a Wild Herbal Succus: Cleavers

A succus is essentially a fancy word for a medicinal, concentrated herbal juice, typically preserved with some kind of alcohol. I’m going to make a cleavers succus for acute gentle lymph support, especially when this is so needed during recovery from illness or a time when the body is under prolonged stress. 
Pine Needle Cough Syrup

Pine Needle Cough Syrup

Making pine needle cough syrup is super easy and essentially no more work than making a very strong pine tea and then 'holding' it with good quality, preferably raw, local honey. Pine is an expectorant for thinning and moving mucous in the lungs. It's warming, somewhat drying, and has a sweet and sour flavor blend that can only be described as piney.

Forsythia Flower Syrup

Forsythia Flower Syrup

Chinese medicine traditionally uses the steamed and de-seeded fruit of the forsythia bush or 'golden bell' for clearing heat and expelling wind. It has an affinity for the heart, lung, and galbladder meridians. Make a honey based syrup from its spring flowers to keep in your medicine cabinet for wellness all year long.
Czech Apple Spicebush Strudel

Czech Apple Spicebush Strudel

For the holidays this year, Michael made his favorite Christmas apple strudel with a few local spicebush berries thrown in for a wildcrafted Appalachian twist in a dish in which the new world meets the old...via strudel! 

December 18, 2019 — Red Moon Herbs

Dandelion Dip Recipe

Susun Weed, author of Healing Wise - the book with more dandelion flower, leaf, and root recipes than I've ever seen - tells us that dandelion is one of the most generous plants, for any part of her is harvestable at any time of the year. Therefore, anytime is a great time for a bowl of this easy-to-whip-up dandelion dip, served with some crackers, fresh veg, or chips. And it's a dish wild enough to impress your friends, kids, or nosy neighbors with its foraged flavor of a hint of bitter balanced with garlic and salt.

Dandelion dip recipe

We start by collecting bunches of dandelion greens fresh from the lawn, garden, farmer's market, or any other place you trust for your wild foods. If you have a little one to help you at this task, so much the better!

Baby picking dandelions

In the springtime, dandelion leaves tend to be a little less bitter and they continue to rev up that bitterness as summer gives way to fall. This dish helps us remember that bitter tastebuds are ones we have for a reason: bitters stimulate our digestive juices, kicking our GI system into high gear and encouraging salivary and metabolic actions. Although coffee is really one of the only 'bitters' we find in our food culture, bitter tasting plant foods are important and even essential for a healthy gut and digestive fire.

Chopping dandelion leaf

After dicing up the dandy leaves, and tasting a few for good measure (and giving a few to the baby to make him pucker with surprise!), we simply combine this green loveliness with cottage cheese, plain yogurt (preferably organic and full-fat, for the optimal nutrition), garlic powder, and salt (see exact measurements in the recipe above). Easy! The dip is now ready to be feasted on, with fingers, crackers, or whatever bread you have on hand.

Dandelion dip

Why We Wildcraft

Why We Wildcraft

Here at Red Moon, we have strived for over 20 years to carry on a rich tradition of locally wildcrafting much of the plant material that goes into our tinctures, tea blends, and dried herbs. While many herb companies may have started out wildcrafting their materials, they have quickly realized the true task of collecting plants from the wild: the wild is unforgiving, it is always in a state of flux, and it is never the same two years in a row. It resists management and it laughs in the face of quality control and harvest minimums.

Therefore, it is often easier to turn to cultivation, which can be dependable, regulated, and predictable. But we have stayed true to our course as wildcrafters, true to the Wise Woman Tradition, and true to those wild plants which can be so much more medicinally potent than their cultivated varieties. But why, when the challenge of the wild is so much steeper?

Wildcrafting dandelions

Wildcrafting for the Planet

When we wildcraft in conscious relationship with the ecosystem, we actually work to improve the robustness of the flora and fauna in that environment even as we boost our own health. By gathering the bounty of the wild around us, we encourage the plants to continue blooming, and bloom prolifically: more, faster, longer than before. When we get a haircut, the fibers of our hair react by growing more vigorously and robustly than before; when we prune a vitex bush or wildcraft the bark of a cherry tree’s limbs for medicine, the plant responds by growing faster and producing more buds, blooms, and those incredible phytochemicals – flavonoids, polysaccharides, and alkaloids – that we call medicine.

As wildcrafters, we strive to always familiarize ourselves with the mini ecosystem around us before a harvest. When I go out to gather red clover or nettles to dry for infusions, I remember that these are food herbs for the bees, deer, and rabbits who live in that field or creekbed. Just as they are food herbs for us, bringing us nourishment in the form of proteins, minerals, and vitamins, they are also a major part of the diet for wildlife foragers.

The one-in-three principle is a good rule of thumb to keep in mind. Harvest one, leave two to grow. Take one out of every three blossoms, buds, or berries. While this rule applies to plant populations that are growing in abundance, the rule shifts to one-in-ten among herbs that are rarer or take longer to grow and establish themselves. In reality, there is no clean this-for-that rule when wildcrafting. It is a matter of knowing your ecosystem, the needs of the flora and fauna in it, and the way those species interact with the plant you are harvesting. Always check with resources like United Plant Savers to tell if a plant is rare, threatened, or endangered before harvesting it.

Wildcrafting for Our Physical Health

The superior nutritional and medicinal properties of wildcrafted plants, versus their cultivated counterparts, are well documented. According to a New York Times article on the subject, we are effectively “breeding the nutrition out of our food” the further our cultivated varieties of produce get from their wild origins. Apples have become progressively sweeter over time, as have most fruits, evolving with our sugar-loving taste buds. Fresh cultivated vegetables, even those that are organically grown, have become less potent due to our manipulation of the bitter medicinal alkaloids out of them.

These bitter constituents that are so prevalent in wild food, however, are one of the primary medicinal tonics for organs like the liver and the gallbladder. Digestion is a process that relies on the body’s creation of food-appropriate enzymes that only occurs when food is properly tasted. The bitter components of wild plants help our digestive organs to recognize these foods and produce these enzymes that help us to maximize the nutrition that we derive from them. It is no wonder that a bunch of wild dandelion greens, bitter as they may be, contain far more nutrition, vitamins, and trace minerals, than even the most beautifully grown organic kale. Frank Cook, renowned naturalist, ethnobotanist, and wild foods educator, told us to ‘Eat something wild every day’. This advice, if carried out, goes straight to the liver.

Harvesting wild cherry bark

Spending time in nature – whether wildcrafting, walking, or simply wandering – also comes with a slew of health benefits that are undeniable. Lifespans are at an all-time high (at least for the modern world) and those who spend more time outdoors are more likely to be able to live that lengthy life to its fullest and longest, according to research done by the Journal of Aging Health. Their study found that the seniors who went outside each day complained less about sleeping issues and aching bones, among other things, than those who did not. This increase in lifespans may be due to several factors of spending time in the natural world, including: reduction in stress, increased feelings of happiness and contentment, improved health of the lungs and bloodstream because of exposure to clean air, vitamin D exposure, or lowered blood pressure because of reduced anxiety.

 
The opposite of spending time outdoors has been termed “nature deprivation” and is linked to massive amounts of screen time in front of TVs and computers. This screen time overload is related to increased risk of death, according to research by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. On the contrary, people who spend time in nature may live longer than those who do not. Over five years, a Japanese study was conducted among senior citizens which concluded that those who had accessible, walkable green space were more likely to live longer than those who didn’t. Another study showed that hospital patients exposed to plants expressed lower blood pressure and heart rate, lessened pain and reduced anxiety. It has been proven in several studies that the elderly who spend time outside experience reduced blood pressure, allowing them to prolong their life. If this is what happens by just bringing plants into a room, imagine what happens when people are brought into a whole wondrous landscape of plants to wildcraft them for medicine and food!

 
Forest bathing, a term that has been created to reference people spending time in nature and receiving healing benefits from it, is a side effect of wildcrafting. It refers to the act or the art of spending quality time, unplugged, in a forested setting and simply witnessing the beauty of that world. While you are likely to get more dirty than clean, it is the good kind of dirt, the kind of soul-dirt that fills us and satisfies us and permeates our vision. Those who ‘forest bathe’, or whatever your version of that is, have been documented to live longer, have less stress, and are able to fight off cancer more effectively, according to a number of clinical journals.

Wildcrafting for the Soul

 Wildcrafting yellowroot

But does it go to the soul, too?

As we have seen, the evidence says yes, in many ways and in many languages, both scientific and anecdotal. Wildcrafting and basking in the outdoors nourishes our souls in ways that unspeakable, but universally acknowledged. We connect with wild plants in a way that is carried forth to us in our blood, in our genetics, in our fingerprints. Plants have always been our life source and life force, and when we gather them in their natural habitats we are returning, if ever so briefly, to a moment in our ancestry when we needed them for sustenance, when they were our primary form of health care, and when we were helpless without their generous nourishment.

We wildcraft because we must, we wildcraft because it is part and parcel of our genetic heritage, and we wildcraft to further forge our relationship with the gifts of the wild outdoors and the wild within all of us. So when you see the word ‘wildcrafted’ on one of our labels, you will know that herb originated in the remote hills and valleys of Appalachia, was bartered for with bears and wild boars, and comes from a heart place of primitive connection between our hands and the untamed land of our ancestors.

March 08, 2016 — Heather Wood Buzzard
Ginseng’s Best Kept Secret: Missing the Leaf for the Root

Ginseng’s Best Kept Secret: Missing the Leaf for the Root

November marks the tail end of ‘sang season, but relics of the harvest time remain: small town signs scrawled with ‘Will Buy Ginseng – No License Needed’ and reports of poachings on private land or national park felonies over the last two months. Ginseng hunters and buyers have been everywhere this autumn. But where is the ginseng?

 

Statistically speaking, approximately 95% of it is getting shipped to Hong Kong and Singapore, a region which has now exhausted their resources of the root and relies almost exclusively on the Appalachian mountains to supply their steady demand. In 2012, the U.S. exported 45,000 pounds of wild ginseng and 342,000 pounds of the cultivated woodland crop. But what many consumers and cultivators alike don’t know is that ginseng has a secret, and it’s hiding in plain sight.

 

The Down and Dirty on Ginseng in North Carolina

 

We’ve all seen the hokey reality tv episodes where life depends not on modern commerce as we know it but on rebel flags, bear hunting, and huge sackfuls of ‘sang harvest. But what is the deal with ginseng in North Carolina, really? Is there a way to harvest it legally without risk of jail-time? Is that even sustainable? How is poaching different from stealing? Let’s get rooted – no pun intended – in the regulations here and take a look at the rules of the game of Appalachian ginseng.

 

As one of six states that permits a very limited amount of ginseng to be wild harvested from its national forests, North Carolina has struggled to get that number of permits just right. This system has scaled back considerably in the last two years to make room for the growing threat of poachers and thieves. Offering only 136 permits per year (a 75% reduction), the state agency is attempting to limit the destruction of ginseng as much as possible. But Forest Service botanist Gary Kauffman has noted that despite having the lottery restricting the ginseng harvest for the last couple of years, it’s not certain whether the ginseng plants are bouncing back with any vigor.[1]

 

If you’re fortunate enough to win the lottery, the ginseng ‘lottery’, that is, in which you enter your information at the Nantahala or Pisgah U.S. Forest Service district office and get (or don’t) randomly granted a permit to dig, you may harvest between September 1 and 15th. There is some semblance of accountability for future generations; NC state law requires that you sow the seeds from the ginseng you are harvesting within 100 feet of the plant.

 

Considered ‘green’ when it is freshly dug, ginseng roots must by fully dry before selling to most dealers. The drying process takes about a month when done naturally. The dried root sells for between $500-$2000 per pound to hungry and steady Asian markets. Before exporting it off to any international buyers, dealer permits must be obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

 

But this isn’t ginseng unlimited: you may dig only 1-3 pounds fresh with this type of permit, and any harvesting outside these bounds is considered poaching and likely to garner you a $5,000 fine, 6 months in federal prison, or both.

 

Stealing, on the other hand, is even more sinister than poaching. Ginseng thieves seem to grow in numbers as quickly as viewers of shows like Appalachian Outlaws boom. An $8,000 patch of personal ginseng cultivated by a retired physician recently disappeared outside of Asheville – and all because of a hole in a barbed wire fence. Diggers attempting to harvest on private land must have written permission from the land owner on their person, or risk a felony charge.

 

In the Smokey Mountain National Park, the ginseng situation has gotten so serious that the park rangers have now micro-chipped and dyed over 13,000 ginseng roots, many of which were recovered from thieves, moved back to the park land, and replanted. The dye enables the law-abiding dealer to examine the root and tell immediately whether or not it is stolen property.

 

This plant is one of the few valiantly protected at both the state and the federal level. With a volatile market combined with the unpredictability of mother nature, the collapse of this multi-million dollar ginseng industry never seems too far outside the realm of possibility. People reach for ginseng because of its acclaimed longevity powers and tonic health benefits…but even if we’re all ginseng-high and living for 120 years, don’t we still want our children to be able to experience the wonders of the root as well?

 

To Harvest Is to Kill…Or Is It?

 

Harvesting the root kills the ginseng plant. What many people don’t realize is that these standard practices of killing ginseng during harvest weren’t always like this. Earlier in the game, before ginseng cultivation was getting started and most of the harvest was wild-crafted, ginseng could be harvested and grow back.

 

The ginseng root must have three ‘prongs’ or four buds when harvested, meaning that it’s at least five years old and typically around seven or eight. In the old days, the root, shaped like a little man with a taproot torso and two scrawny legs, was dug up and the harvester typically broke off one leg (the shorter of the two) and replanted it. Almost all the ginseng that was sold in those days was just so, the main larger root with one ‘leg’, not two. One day, that all changed. Dealers decided they would only accept the whole root in its pure, unadulterated form. This was when ginseng harvests took a turn; from then on, to harvest would mean to kill.

 

“I grow ginseng as a perennial. I harvest the roots but I don’t kill the plants. When it gets to be 8-10 years old, it frequently starts making new roots around the neck.” Joe Hollis, a god amongst herb cultivators who specializes in Chinese herbs, recommends harvesting the existing roots and leaving the new rootlets in the ground, which would then produce a new root in the next couple years. Unfortunately, because of regulations as they stand, you can’t sell ginseng root without the neck. But for value-added products (and perhaps eventually a new wave of more sustainable regulations), the perennially cultivated ginseng is a largely untapped market.

 

We export between 94% and 97% of our organically wild-harvested ginseng to the Eastern markets, while we simultaneously import their highly sprayed, chemical-laden Asian ginseng to be used in our adaptogen formulas and Traditional Chinese Medicine clinics. Buyers pay nearly 90% more for the wild-harvested root as opposed to the cultivated, and it is thought to be about twice as effective as the cultivated. But no amount of effectiveness is worthwhile if we’re eliminating the ginseng from the woods.

 

As Below So Above: A Vote for the Leaf

 

The Wise Woman tradition values whole plant extracts in which all the synergistic constituents of a plant are included. This way of making medicine is holistic, inclusive, and broad. It is the direct opposite of pharmaceuticals, which isolate one chemical compound and extract, manipulate, and concentrate it.

 

With our feet firmly grounded in the fertile soil of the Wise Woman tradition, we want to make a case for the leaf of ginseng as an undervalued aspect of the whole plant’s medicine. Worshipping at the feet of the root of this ‘king (or queen) of the forest’ and ignoring the rest of the plant has done us no good. That said, what if there were more to ginseng than just its root? It turns out that there is.

 

According to clinical research done by a group of scientists on the bioactive compounds and pharmacology of ginseng leaf and stem, “Extracts from ginseng root and leaf-stem have similar multifaceted pharmacological activities.”[2] This covers all of the properties we know and love about ginseng - its anti-fatigue, anti-hyperglycemic, anti-obesity, anti-cancer, anti-oxidant and anti-aging properties. They are all present and accounted for in the ginseng leaf. What’s considered the active ingredient in ginseng, the magic bullet, the ginsenosides, are fully present and active in the leaf. All those delightful polysaccharides, antioxidants, flavonoids, volatile oils, peptides, and amino and fatty acids that we love about the root? You better believe they’re active in the leaf, too.

 

Studies have shown that ginseng leaf extract improves learning and memory capabilities, preserves the cardiac and vascular systems, and exhibits anti-diabetes effects…just like the root. In one particular study, the leaf was shown to have significant hypoglycemic effects and prove extremely beneficial in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.[3]

 

It’s in terms of costs and sourcing, though, that ginseng leaf and stem presents the greatest advantages to the exclusive use of ginseng root. Henriette Kress, a wonderful and vastly knowledgeable herbalist in Finland, tells it like it is: “The leaf of American ginseng is as good as the root. It's also much cheaper, but next to nobody sells it because next to nobody knows about it.”[4] She explains that the tradition of using only the roots of ginseng is a relic of the storage limitations of the old-fashioned herb trade. Dried root kept in burlap bags would last in barns for years, whereas the leaf would not. Now that we’ve moved beyond the limitations of that era, isn’t it time to move onto a new era of ginseng leaf as truly sustainable medicine that grows back year after year?

 

Another answer to the maze of questions that is ginseng sustainability was introduced by Joe Hollis, who brought gynostemma or ‘southern ginseng’ into the US and touts this weedy plant as a similarly five-leafed curiosity comparable to ginseng. Gynostemma, which chemically contains the same active compounds as ginseng, is, “The most valuable plant you can grow for your own health,” according to Hollis.[5] The entire plant is used medicinally, but particularly the aerial part.

 

If Sustainable Medicine Is Our Goal, Why Are We Devastating Our Ginseng Root?

 

It’s not uncommon that we here at Red Moon Herbs get a request for ginseng. We are, after all, an herb supplier, so why shouldn’t we carry this most sought after herb? On the large scale, we hope to soon nationally pioneer a tincture of the leaf and stem, an effective, well-studied, underdog adaptogen of the herbal world that is truly sustainable. Locally, we will begin be offering a limited edition ginseng leaf and local honey elixir at the Ginseng Expo coming to UNCA this December. We are choosing to take a stance on behalf of the plant – the whole plant, leaf included. We are choosing to stand up for the complexities of ginseng as a living, growing botanical, as well as a valuable medicine that deserves to remain a growing part of our Appalachian heritage.

 

Want to learn more? Come speak ‘sang this December at the International American Ginseng Expo on December 4th and 5th on the UNC Asheville campus. A rare gathering of the global leaders in all things ginseng, the expo is well stocked with classes, panels, networking opportunities, and round tables. Join buyers, growers, dealers, researchers, herbalists, and marketers from far and wide to delve into the world of the most famous medicinal root in the world.

 

 

[1] http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/nfsnc/home/?cid=STELPRDB5387328

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2770043/

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14643691

[4] http://www.henriettes-herb.com/blog/ginseng-leaf.html

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlL1ZiaruAc

November 29, 2015 — Heather Wood Buzzard
Harvesting Wild Hawthorne Berries

A Day in the Life of a Wildcrafter: Hawthorne

My hawthorne berries are growing plump and ruby at the top of this 5000 foot mountain, and I am still in the bottom lowlands, a mere 3000 feet or so in elevation, strapping thick hiking boots to my feet and pulling on canvas gloves in the pre-dawn dew.

The day for harvest has finally come, and Burdock the Bernese mountain dog knows it as much as I do. Last year around the hawthorne harvest time, I caught him sneaking low-hanging fruit from the tree as I was harvesting. I thought, “What an excellent example of zoopharmacognosy!” because firstly, it’s a wonderful word to think aloud to oneself, and secondly, because truly, he as an animal has this vital canine instinct about what’s good for him. With a purebred mountain dog father, he has a genetic predisposition to heart troubles, the very thing that hawthorne remedies so reliably. And did he know this, when poking his long furry snout unperturbed into the brambly thicket and nibbling on the berries? I think so.

Hawthorne berries

We climb steadily up towards the ridge where the hawthornes reign, Burdock with his backpack and me with mine, both of us stopping to drink from one of the seven springs we cross along the way. Both of us in various states of bedragglement the higher we climb, accumulating hundreds of tickseeds and agrimony burrs, he in his tail and me in my mane, both of us avoiding the falling buckeyes and sweating a bit in the cool September climate.

We have been watching the hawthornes all year. The tree of May, they bloom bursts of white delight in the late spring, beneath which fairies are said to dream in the old Gaelic traditions. When they were in full blossom I gently cut away some of the rosy flowers and leaves, which would be made into sweet, flavonoid-rich tincture for needy capillaries and wanting vessels.

Hawthorne is in the rose and apple family, and it’s obvious: the flowers mimic creamy mini ornamental roses while the seeds hold the same toxic Snow-White compound as their fruity cousins: cyanide. In my understanding, it’s about as big of a deal to consume a hawthorne as it is to eat an apple. Strain out or spit out the seeds, and you’re fine.

Hawthorne berries

Their medicine is sweet, tonic, and red, astringent and life-filled, bioavailable to the cardiovascular system and generous in antioxidants. Compounds from hawthorne are used to create some pharmaceutical heart medicines and have been touted for their safety, effectiveness and lack of herb-drug contraindications. They are considered an adaptogen for the heart, with that mystical phyto-ability to lower blood pressure or raise it as needed, and to aid the cardiac area of the body to do its best job pumping, distributing, and nourishing the blood.

Hawthorne heart

The berries are early this year, and so I must be, too. Hawthorne does not wait around for insignificant wildcrafters to come and take their pick, and neither do the black bears that roam this acreage, and neither do the dark-eyed juncos fluttering to nab the topmost berries that gleam scarlet in the light. Hawthorne does not mind if I have orders to fill and eager berry buyers 3000 feet below its roots and a city and a world away.

Hawthorne lives here, actually lives here, has been born and watered and winded and pollinated and grown up and old and gnarly and reproduced one million berry children here. And hawthorne will continue to live here so long as the mountain keeps kind to it, and the harvesters pluck only what their baskets can carry, and never more.

Hawthorne wildcrafting

We pick for hours in that close, high-elevation September sun, so much nearer than than normal, and the basket begins to fold and creak beneath its slowly growing weight. Or, I pick, and Burdock sturdily guards us from bears, or, more likely, sinister chipmunks and dragonflies. The thorns guarding the haws are nothing less than formidable and no match for tender human hands, some of them growing more than two inches in length, jagged reminders that this is the wild of blood-red berries, not merely pricked fingers from a fairytale.

Hawthorne berries

We tumble down the mountain, sliding through rocky creeks and dodging leafy banks, 10 pounds heavier at least, laden but far from burdened. The bears can return to their sweet feast in privacy, now, and I can return to the ear-popping lowlands from whence I came.

But not before a deluge of black Jerseys decides to take interest in our cause. Burdock and I descend upon a pleasantly mooing field of Madison County cows, who turned quickly into an aggressively stomping and MOOING field of Madison County cows as we trundled through their territory. They seemed to be showing far too much interest in my wildcrafted goods than I deemed appropriate for cows, dodging towards either me or the oddly cow-colored dog and then leering backwards with a noise like a tortured primate.

I wonder at this point if cows have some obscure fondness for hawthorne berries that perhaps I wasn’t aware of, and begin to hold my precious bag of loot a bit further away from my side, just in case I needed to toss it to my bovine predators and run like the wind. Surely none of these were bulls, were they? The grab-the-bull-by-the-horns expression came to mind and I was conveniently reminded that none of these cows indeed had horns, so surely they wouldn’t be in hot pursuit of a redhead with a red bag full to the brim with bright red…no! Surely not!

Nevertheless, we weren’t going to risk it. We dart around the herd, running and scattering a few berries in our wake, Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs style, under barbed wire fences and over fallen hemlocks and safely clattering three miles down the mountain.

The day for harvest is over for another year. We will keep watching the hawthornes through the winter, we will go and visit them again when their branches are bare and they look dead and grey, and we will approach them in the spring again, asking once more what heart fruits they will hold for us come autumn.

September 27, 2015 — Heather Wood Buzzard
Vibrant Violet Soup

Vibrant Violet Soup

Looking for something to do with all those violet greens you just weeded out of your garden bed? Try this creamy summer soup, equally good hot as it is cold. The mucilage of the violet greens compliments the creaminess of the soup base so delightfully.

Violets

Creamy Violet Green Soup
(adapted from Healing Wise by Susun S. Weed)

Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 cup sliced leeks or wild leeks
4 cups violet leaves
4 cups water
Salt to taste
4 cups fresh milk
Violet blossoms
Dusting of nutmeg

Sauté leeks and onion in oil for three minutes. Add chopped violet leaves, stir for a minute. Add water and salt and bring to a simmer. Cook about 15 minutes, then puree in blender or through a sieve. Reheat, adding milk. Garnish with a few violet blossoms and a dust of nutmeg before serving. Also nice served cold.

Violet Soup

 

July 30, 2015 — Heather Wood Buzzard